Understand Your Risk

Understanding your own individual risk of cancer, gives you an opportunity to equip yourself with lifesaving information.

Here at Pink Hope, we encourage all women to know their breast and ovarian cancer risks.

Knowing about your risk of cancer means finding out:

  • how likely you are to develop it
  • whether there are ways to detect it early and
  • how you might reduce the risk

There are three main risk categories for breast and ovarian cancer; low (also known as average risk or general population risk), moderate and high risk. Each level of risk has different recommendations for screening and/or risk reducing strategies.

Several factors such as personal health history, family health history and lifestyle factors can impact on breast and ovarian cancer risk. You can discuss your cancer risk with your GP (local doctor). If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer our Know Your Risk tool may be helpful in guiding you further about what the family history means for your risk.

The Low Risk Category

Most women in the population fall into this category of risk. This is why this category is also referred to as ‘average risk’ or ’general population risk’. Most women in this category will not develop breast or ovarian cancer in their lifetime. The risk of breast cancer, for women in this category, is about 12.5% over a lifetime. Another way to put this is about 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer. The risk of ovarian cancer is about 1.2% over a lifetime. This means that fewer than 1 in 80 women will develop ovarian cancer. The majority of breast and ovarian cancers occur in women after age 50.

Options to manage your risks
Although the risks are low, it is still important to be proactive and monitor your breast health.

You can manage your breast cancer risk by doing regular self-breast examinations, knowing the signs and symptoms of breast and ovarian cancer and participating in the national breast cancer screening programme, BreastScreen. To find out more detail about all of these options click here.

Women at this level of risk are recommended to participate in the national breast cancer screening program, BreastScreen. BreastScreen contacts women to offer a free mammogram every 2 years between the ages of 50-74 years old for those at low risk. You can also request to have a mammogram every 2 years from age 40 but you will not be invited to appointments by BreastScreen until you reach 50. You can contact BreastScreen directly on 13 20 50 or online or talk to your GP about this. To find out more about what a mammogram is click here.

There is no recommended early detection screening test for ovarian cancer for women at any level of risk. Fortunately the ovarian cancer risk for most women is low. Knowing the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer and reporting any unusual and persistent symptoms to your GP is still important. To find out more about the signs and symptoms click KNOW YOUR Os.

Lifestyle factors are choices we make that can impact on cancer risk and our general health. Being overweight and drinking excess alcohol are two factors that can impact on the risk of breast cancer. The great news is these and other lifestyle factors are often things you can control. Click here to learn more.

The Moderate Risk Category

Some women in this category will develop breast or ovarian cancer but most will not.

The lifetime risk of breast cancer for women in this category is moderate. This means it is more than the population risk of 12.5% (1 in 8) but less than 30% (less than 1 in 3).

Most women in this group will have an ovarian cancer risk that is similar to that of the general population (less than 1 in 80). If a woman has one immediate relative (sister, mother or daughter) who has ovarian cancer, then her ovarian risk may be slightly increased to about 4% (4 in 100).

If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you can complete our Know Your Risk Tool and take the summary page to discuss with your risks and options with your doctor.

Options to manage your risks
If you have some increase in risk, then knowing your options for screening and ways to reduce risks is important.

Breast cancer screening includes having breast screening (usually with a mammogram), self-breast and clinical (doctor) examinations. Click here for more information about what these options.

The recommendation on how often to have a mammogram and when to start depends on your family history and your age so see your GP (local doctor) for more specific advice.

If your GP recommends you start breast cancer screening you can access this via BreastScreen. BreastScreen is a national breast cancer screening program offering a free mammogram every 2 years from age 40, if you request one (and will invite you for 2 yearly mammograms automatically from age 50 to 74).

Some women in this category may wish to consider taking a medication to reduce their breast cancer risk. For more information click here.

There are no early detection ovarian cancer screening tests. If you have an immediate relative (mother, sister or daughter) who has had ovarian cancer you may wish to speak with your GP for further advice about your risk. They can help you understand whether you or your family member may benefit from a referral to a Family Cancer Clinic. Many women with ovarian cancer are now able to have a genetic test to (mostly) rule out an inherited problem in a known high risk gene such as BRCA1 or BRCA2. The likelihood of a genetic problem does depend on the type of ovarian cancer, however, so talking with a GP or the doctor treating ovarian cancer is generally the best place to start.

What lifestyle factors are important?
Lifestyle factors are choices we make that can impact on cancer risk and our general health. Being overweight and drinking excess alcohol are two factors that can impact on the risk of breast cancer. Looking at your diet, how much alcohol you have, smoking and exercise are good to consider to try and reduce many other cancer risks. The great news is these and other lifestyle factors are often things you can control. Click here to learn more.

Some medications such as the oral contraceptive Pill and hormone replacement therapy can impact on breast and ovarian cancer risks but this varies with the age you are, the type of medication and the length of time they are taken. If you are taking these medications you can ask your doctor how they impact on your breast or ovarian cancer risk. More information can be found at Cancer Australia.

Who can help me with a plan to manage my risk?
Your GP is a great starting point for more specific advice about your risk and assist you in arranging a breast cancer screening and risk reduction plan.

Where can I get more information or support?
You may find the Pink Hope Resources, Pink Hope Online Genetic Counsellor, Peer to Peer Support or Group Peer to Peer Support helpful.

The High Risk Category

Less than 1% of the female population have a high risk of breast or ovarian cancer. A high lifetime risk of breast cancer means a risk of over 30% (over 1 in 3). A lifetime risk of ovarian cancer of 10% (1 in 10) is high but levels between 5% and 10% may also be managed in a similar way.

Some women have a high risk of both cancers, others only of breast or of ovarian cancer. This varies depending on the pattern of family history and/or what has been found on genetic testing.

If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer , you can complete our Know Your Risk Tool and take that summary page to discuss with your risks and options with your doctor.

If you are at high risk of either breast or ovarian cancer it is very important you know how to manage your risks. There are ways to detect breast cancer early as well as ways to reduce the risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.

Recommendations on the type and frequency of breast cancer screening depend on your age, family history, level of risk and other features such as mammographic breast density and general health. Women who have a high breast cancer risk may consider using medication to reduce the risk of breast cancer. Some may consider and/or surgery to reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Women at high risk of ovarian cancer may be recommended to have surgery to remove their fallopian tubes and ovaries to reduce the risk. Again, whether this recommendation is best for you is dependent on your age, family history, level of risk and general health.

What lifestyle factors are important?
Lifestyle factors are choices we make that can impact on cancer risk and our general health. Being overweight and drinking excess alcohol are two factors that can impact on the risk of breast cancer. Looking at your diet, how much alcohol you have, smoking and exercise are good to consider to try and reduce many other cancer risks. The great news is these and other lifestyle factors are often things you can control. Click here to learn more.

Some medications such as the oral contraceptive Pill and hormone replacement therapy can impact on breast and ovarian cancer risks but this varies with the age you are, the type of medication and the length of time they are taken. If you are taking these medications you can ask your doctor how they impact on your breast or ovarian cancer risk. More information can be found at Cancer Australia.

Who can help me with a plan to manage my risk?
It is important to speak with your doctor and in some cases specialists such as Family Cancer Clinic, breast specialists and/or gynaecologists. Your GP is a great starting point for more specific advice about your risk and to assist you in arranging or referring you to a relevant specialist to arrange breast cancer screening and a breast and/or ovarian cancer risk reduction plan.

Where can I get more information or support?
You may find the Pink Hope ResourcesPink Hope Online Genetic CounsellorPeer to Peer Support or Group Peer to Peer Support helpful.

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